President SBY will be happy.
He said the tourist industry is important to the national GPD. It contributes some 4% directly and 9% indirectly he said recently. So I guess it’s good news to him Henk and Gerrie, my two theatre-buddies and real addicted culture-consumers, decided to spend a month in Indonesia.My globe-trotting friends will soon tour the “tropic of emerald“. But rather than enjoying the still abundant beauty of fauna, flora, sea and scenery in the empire of islands, they are hoping to find new cultural experiences.
Henk and Gerrie waited long.Too long in my opinion. Though I’ve often tried before to convince them, they have not spent one day in Indonesia in he past. Never seemed inclined at all to go there. Latin America, China, India, the Middle East – they have been hunting for cultural experiences everywhere. They recently even preferred Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia over holidays in Indonesia. When I asked them why their answers were evasive and ambiguous.
My hypothesis on their hesitancy is that some real or perceived characteristics of Indonesia itself are concerned. Obstacles that hamper the country’s tourist industry to reach and attract large segments of the big spending European senior cultural tourists*. I don’t think catchphrases like “discover the secret behind Aceh’s world” are very fit to win them over.Reference to that province probably isn’t smart. Shari-ah, caning and incidental reports on violence are deterrents in stead of selling points. News on religious intolerance doesn’t help the tourist industry to compete successfully with other interesting holiday destinations.Which is sad because my friends belong to that age group that can afford to stay longer than the average week and spend more money than the average $ 1250.
Yet I think it’s much more relevant that many of these specific potential visitors to Indonesia think twice because they only have a vague, hazy impression of what cultural delicacies Indonesia has in store. And whatever sketchy information is available is not always correct. Many cultural institutions in the archipelago forgot about their ‘make up’. They often are neither cool nor sexy. Yokyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan, as well as the Bali temples perhaps can do without. But the many (often extremely interesting and very worthwhile) museums and the many extraordinary archaeological sites can’t. Indonesian modern art is booming – mainly thanks to the new rich in China and at home- but in spite of an occasional exhibition in London, has stayed largely unnoticed by my European age-peers. Colonial architecture also is a potential asset for tourism that deserves attention and investments. Many objects badly need highlighting as well as maintenance. To draw the attention they often need a serious make over and smart marketing. Even the outstanding National Museum is a goldmine – alas with the appeal of a warehouse. Though the good news is that it recently joined the Google’s Art Project and made 100 works of art available online.
The number of tourists visiting Indonesia is up. It has reached 8 million now. It may look like a success. Yet I think the industry is underachieving. Cultural tourists are still marginal. Professionally pimping, modernizing the display of the country’s cultural assets, may help. And so can improved logistical pampering of these, often senior, cultural tourists.
I’m looking forward to the stories Henk and Gerrie will tell me after they will have returned. I’m pretty sure they will confirm there is still a lot of work at hand for the Ministry and the tourist industry.
* There are approximately 1.000.000 tourist arrivals from Europe yearly. Mainly from Great Britain (200000), France (170000) , the Netherlands (160000) and Germany (150000). Two thirds of them come for a Bali-Holiday.
Update: This (“Tourists obliged to wear sarung at Javanese temples“) obviously is not a measure to boost foreign cultural tourism.